“I saw new heavens and a new earth”
When someone you love dies suddenly, the world seems so empty. Work, supper, errands, bills, plans - everything seems so irrelevant. Your mind and heart are elsewhere. The landscape as you drive to work now looks strange; like the receding panorama you see from the rear platform of a moving train, a panorama rapidly being taken over by the past tense. It’s a world that you feel you have somehow left behind – of little interest anymore.
I wouldn’t call it simply a state of depression. There is something positive or curious about it. I think you begin to feel distant from your everyday surroundings because the death of the one you love has made you suddenly more conscious of other dimensions you were till then too preoccupied to notice. It’s like a wake up call. Caught up in this merely three dimensional world; caught up in the daily melodrama of the workplace, in the ever changing, never changing politics of “current events”; performing the several roles of breadwinner or housewife or entrepreneur or bureaucrat or “life of the party”; reciting the lines expected of us - it’s no wonder we assume that this theatre of our own preoccupations is the only world there is.
And then someone like my young son suddenly departs (4/28/93) and you experience grief yes, but also what the poet Rainer Maria Rilke describes in a poem called “Death Experienced”. “The world is full of roles we act,” he says:
But when you went, a streak of reality
broke in upon this stage through that fissure
where you left: green of real green,
real sunshine, real forest.
We go on acting. Fearful and reciting
things difficult to learn and now and then
raising gestures; but your existence,
withdrawn from us and taken from our play,
Can sometimes come over us, like a knowledge
of that reality settling in,
so that for a while we act life
transported, not thinking of applause.
No - that initial sense of emptiness or distraction we feel when someone we love suddenly departs this life cannot be simply called depression. It can be the commencement of an awareness of a realm so real, so wonderful, so durable that it leaves us – as it were - standing upon our every day stage immersed in the descending light, colors, pattern and theology of the rose window of some grand cathedral.
I am so grateful to a dear friend for giving me this poem – unwittingly - on the second anniversary of the very hour I received a call that my son was dead.